What's in a name, they ask? Well, if you ask me, a whole hell of a lot of trouble. If you had a moniker like mine, you'd understand what I mean.
I am called Prudence. Nothing strange there, except that it's a really old, old name. Well, forget about that for now. I could get used to it. Now, imagine your family name being Tempest.
I am Miss Tempest. Miss Prudence Tempest, actually.
Oh yes, laugh all you want. Imagine carrying this load around. It could have been worse. My parents are of the hippy generation, so I could have been tagged with a name like FlowerChild, or SweetBreeze. That one would've been the pits. Beats Prudence hands down any day.
But, with Prudence I am saddled, and make the most of it, that's what I do. Being pretty much an oxymoron in itself, my calling title however comes in handy in trying to make myself a name out there in the world. You see, I am a writer. I write stories and have them published. Okay, I try to have them published. It's such a big, bad shark-infested pond out there in publishing. Prudence Tempest allows me to already cause a stir without needing to do anything. If only this could work in my favour...
In the meantime, trying to publish books doesn't pay the bills, and like almost every struggling writer, I have a day job. What do i do? I'm a real estate agent. It isn't the ho-hum thingie, no, mind you. Let me shed some light on this.
Do you know of the one rich, powerful family that exists in every soap opera? Take this family, and then place it right in the middle of a town where every house boasts such a setup. Welcome to West Haven, home of the utterly, disgustingly rich. Kids here receive gifts for their twenty-one-and-a-half birthday, or whatever other birthday and a half. And not just any gift. An Arabian stallion for the equestrian inclined. A Harry Winston priceless set for the bling-dazzled. A penthouse or a detached dwelling for the ones who want to span their wings and fly, all within reach of Daddy's credit card, of course.
I cannot complain, if you look at it this way. Being a 'trendy' twenty-something myself, is it any wonder that I handle almost all of the brats' gift requests at the agency? Mind you though, West Haven may be paradise on Earth for the filthy rich, but it is also a town of rags and riches. The rags would be considered middle-class in any other location, but here, you're rags. No need to tell you to which category I belong. Being surrounded by so much money often infuses you with an unhealthy desire to earn even more of the moolah yourself. Climb the ladder. Flash off. Keep up with the Joneses, who here happen to be called Walchester or whatever other posh-sounding name.
The only way I can climb up the ladder here is to either become a phenomenally renowned and rich author of the likes of J.K Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, penning down the next book to become a Hollywood blockbuster. Or, I can move to other, higher pools of in the real estate world.
"Daydreaming again, Prue?"
The jolly voice pulls me out of my thoughts, and I look up from my highly polished walnut desk into the face of Des Chambers, my colleague, and unfortunately, also the bane of my existence. You see, Des is insufferable. Why? Because he is so goddamn jolly all the time. Handling the portfolio of family homes, Des has a track record that is outstanding. One simply has to look into his barely-legal-good-boy face, complete with curly brown hair and sparkling coffee-toned eyes, to be won over by his angelic charm.
I wasn't won over though, far from it. Des could be so... positive, it grated on my nerves. He also seemed to have this huge crush on me. It gave me the shivers. Being with Des would be like being with a choir boy. Totally inappropriate. He also wasn't my type.
"I think Marie is gonna pair us together for the Vaulmann deal. Big family that one, and their twin daughters are looking for a chic apartment near the campus," Des said.
"You're sure?" I was certain I had paled. Marie was the woman who ran the agency. A cinnamon-coloured woman coming straight up from South Africa, she spoke with a quirky, thick accent. Everything about Marie was strange, from the hypnosis-like hold she seemed to have on her husband, the original owner of the agency, to the way she pronounced her name - Ma-ree-ay. She was the employees' collective nightmare with her hand of steel in a glove of steel approach. If she told me to work with Des, there was no way I could worm out of it.
I shook my head to ward off the dismal fog that had enclosed me upon Des's disclosure. "What makes you think she'll split the acquisitions? It'll be a single account. You could handle it all."
Des smiled, and opened his mouth to reply. I braced myself for what reason he would invent for us to work together - knowing him, he could very well have asked Marie to put us both on this deal. But he had no time to say anything as the door opened and Marie walked into the office. I lost my breath when I realised she wasn't alone, and right across from me, Des swore softly.
Why did we react this way? With Marie was a man. His name was Malcolm Gainsborough, and he was pure sex on legs.
No woman could be immune to Malcolm. Tall, with a broad, toned physique - from playing tennis every weekend, golfing twice a week, and swimming every single day - he was the epitome of masculine perfection. His black hair was worn short, but not so short that a woman couldn't run her fingers through the locks in the throes of passion. His eyes were like gleaming emeralds, the colour I used to obtain when I dipped my paintbrush of Viridian Green in a pot of water. A clear, vibrant and captivating hue. And his face. Chiselled and always freshly shaved, he carried his square jaw, strong chin and broad forehead with the poise and quiet, discreet allure of movie stars of the fifties.
The best thing about Malcolm however was that he wasn't a pig, far from it. A man with all he had - looks, name, money - could've easily become an ass. Malcolm was respectful, courteous, and newly single. What more could a girl ask for?
Maybe for the man of her dreams to notice her. Malcolm didn't even know me. I wonder if he even saw me when he came by the office. As the biggest agent for the agency, his deals were conducted anywhere but in the drab confines of the walls around us.
Unattainable. That's what he was. But a girl could wish, right? A soft sigh escaped my lips, and this made Des snort.
"God just graced us with his presence," he said in a tone dripping with sarcasm. The men in the agency couldn't really stomach Malcolm's success like real men. And they had the guts to say women were biatches. Malcolm was the onl person I knew who could bring Des out of his jolly bubble. What he showed when he came out wasn't that pleasant either. Another reason why I couldn't fancy Des.
On the threshold of her office, Marie stopped and turned around to face us, the dozen agents who made up the work force of the agency. She clapped her hands while saying, "Meeting. Now," then entered her lair with Malcolm right behind her.
The weekly assignment of accounts. We all moved to the boss's office and stood against the wall like a lineup of usual suspects while Marie pinned her bulging dark eyes on us. She started rattling off, like a military drill sergeant, the new accounts everyone was now responsible for.
"Prudie," she finally said. Marie is the only one who calls me by that stupid name, and if it was anyone but her, she wouldn't have escaped alive. I called myself Prue. Period.
"So, Prudie, you'll be helping on the Vaulmann deal with Des. Twin girls, eighteen, need a big place where they can entertain. I'll leave that up to you, since this is your arena, and not Des's forte, as he's mentioned already."
I wanted to slither to floor and disappear through the carpet. Or go up in a poof of smoke. Anything but feeling this churning nausea creeping up my throat while watching the smug smile on Des's face.
"Now," Marie continued, "I guess you all know Malcolm was to meet with the directors of Waltner Informatics. The company planned on making the northern outskirts of West Haven the new Silicon Valley." She paused. "I am pleased to announce that, thanks to Malcolm's perseverance and hard work, we have landed the contract to find all the locations needed for this venture." There was a round of applause, and Marie put her hands up to make everyone quiet down. "This will mean offices, conferences rooms, leisure resorts, houses, apartments. Everyone will have to knuckle down on their own area of expertise and make sure we deliver on this deal.
"Everyone, except you, Prudie. There won't be many young adults of the likes you cater for in this group, so you will be reassigned to another area."
I waited with baited breath for her to tell me I was going to have to work with Des on the search for family homes.
"Your job will be to coordinate everything and make sure the requirements of Waltner are met to the dot. For this, you'll be working full-time with Malcolm."
To be continued in a fortnight...